By Hannah Courtney, Contributing Writer
For the last show of the spring 2012 season, the West Liberty Hilltop Players are performing John Bishop’s “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940″, and they couldn’t have left on a better note. Comedy is hard to do, and finding a way to make comedy and murder blend together and make sense is even harder, but the Hilltop Players have pulled it off like it’s a piece of cake.
From the first scene, the audience is injected with a healthy dose of laughter that sets up a comedic promise for the remainder of the play. The Stage Door Slasher takes his first victim of the night, maid Helsa Wenzel (Kassidy Wells). With her body laying on the floor, the murderer looks around frantically, searching for a way of disposal. An attempt to balance her on a chair falls short when she quickly flops to the ground. Finally, he drags her to the closet, stuffing her inside like a teenager piling his junk under the bed to give the illusion of a clean room.
Maura Reiff shined as broadway producer Marjorie Baverstock, a cheery, nib-nosed, flirtatious and obnoxiously high-pitched social butterfly. The hand-in-hand combination of an animated character and Reiff’s ability to bring her to life made Marjorie immediately lovable and a fast viewer favorite. When she’s murdered toward the end of the first act, I found myself sad to see her go, having already grown attached to her quirks and antics. Overheard conversation in the room during the intermission thereafter was filled with similar disapointments and “I loved her”. I never would have guessed for a moment that this was Reiff’s debut on the Hilltop. Her performance was flawless and a prelude to more good things to come from Miss Reiff.
Jennifer Saling had the audience reeling as lyricist Bernice Roth, who is so paranoid and frantic that she passes out several times during the play as she witnesses the murder mystery unfold. Although she continues to faint, her nerves calm considerably as she drinks herself to the point of sitting on the floor and singing cheerful songs and sipping at her drink nonchalantly at a desk while being held hostage. Comedic acting is a challenge to pull off and Saling passed with flying colors.
Jacob Trifonoff was a fast favorite as comedian Eddie McCuen, a clumsy, quirky, playful man that falls under the category of a comedian that spends more time thinking he’s funny than actually being funny. His corny jokes and klutsy ways are amusing, particularly when brought to life by the impressively high energy of Trifonoff.
Kassidy Wells shows off both great acting and great comedic skill as Helsa Wenzel, Helsa’s impersonating brother Dieter, and Katrina, the cook from Koblenz. Her ability to portray the classic dramatic emotion of mystery as her identity begins to unravel is spot on and her hilarious portrayal of a German accent is far more impressive than any German accent I, or most people, could conjure.
Karissa Martin held true to her motto to “leave ‘em laughing” as chorus girl turned United States Naval Intelligence member, Nikki Crandall. Her four years of training at WLU show in Martin’s knack for making use of background acting and expressions, as well as her professional performing aura. Although this will be her last production at WLU, she’s certainly going out with a bang
Kevin Hensley offered up continuos lighthearted humor relief as composer Roger Hopewell. Throughout the play, he’s alluded to be homosexual with suggestive ways of caressing and hitting on the various men in the mansion. With his entrance quote being, “Quick, get me a martini, I’m in danger of frostbite”, it’s nearly impossible not to adore him from the start.
Clayton Dunn was wonderful as director Ken De La Maize, who name drops all of those involved in his productions only to follow up with “it hasn’t been released yet”; he also seems to have alcohol and cigars permanently glued to his hand. As far as mysterious, proper, cigar smoking men go – Dunn was ace.
The remainder of the cast was spectacular a well. The characters in this show are full of personality and skillfully hand picked to impeccably craft the art of comedy and each person made their character, and the comedic value attached to them, shine.
Admittedly, when I watch something that claims to be humorous, I always approach it with a hint of skepticism because there’s a stark difference between what calls itself funny and what actually makes me laugh. “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940″ certainly upheld to the latter, containing not only my kind of humor, but a little bit of something for any particular fancy. The various comedic techniques used include: interpretation, pop culture, sarcasm, sexual suggestion, over-dramatics, metaphor, famous last words, and over-stereotyped accents.
Although it sounds like an odd combination, “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940″ pairs comedy and murder together as flawlessly as peas and carrots.
During the play, comedian Eddie McCuen says “the heroes get the girl and the comics get the laughs”. But as far as I’m concerned, the Hilltop Players get the laughs, the girls, the boys, and everything in between with their rendition of “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.”